Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Photo taken from Flickr

 Book Info

Title:  The Handmaid's Tale

Author:  Margaret Atwood
Publisher:  Vintage
Language: English
ISBN-13:  978-0099740919
Source:  Gift

From Goodreads:

"In this multi-award-winning, bestselling novel, Margaret Atwood has created a stunning Orwellian vision of the near future. This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate “Handmaids” under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred’s persistent memories of life in the “time before” and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning."


The experience of reading dystopian novels is a lot like that of a coward reading horror books:  even as the last pages have been turned, the shock and fear is still palpable - fear that the story is prophetic of the real future.  And if it is in fact the truth, then let me warn you now:  the future is bleak, damaged and fatalistic, so be ready.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is probably the most haunting and frightening, yet most exciting dystopian novel I have ever read.  It tells the story of Offred, a handmaid, assigned to bear offspring for the Commander and his Wife - part of the highest echelons of society of the Republic of Gilead - formerly United States of America.  In the new order of things, women are not allowed to own property, have their own money, and express an opinion, like the olden days.

The writing is intelligent, nostalgic, and comes off as trying very hard to be detached - which is a good thing as it is told through the eyes of Offred.  The narration struggled to be unemotional, but in every chapter, the reader witnesses an initial neutrality that yearningly digresses to recall the past - an exhibition of her fumbling for words to battle the loneliness, anger, and denial that she really feels for her situation.  As this story is very introspective and centered on a single character, the others appear caricature-like, but in this case that is acceptable and even expected as Offred struggles to reconcile her current situation with the past, and the uncertainty of the future.  The other personalities appear one-dimensional but still very human and could evoke an array of feelings from the reader.  If the narration was shifted to the third person, a clearer view of each characters would be presented, but the focus on Offred and her tumult would be lost which would make the story lose its point, for what use is a handmaid's tale if it is told by an invisible narrator and not the handmaid herself?  The voice is subjective, one-sided, and very reflective of the main character's personality and attitude towards certain things, events, memories, and people.  To her old friend Moira, she has nothing but admiration, respect, and affection.  To the Commander, she expresses a confusion as to his real intentions and motives.  As for Janine, one of the Handmaids she met at the Red Centre, she maintained a real dislike and a lack of sympathy that at first the readers might blindly accept, until the whole story unfolds and we are encouraged to question whether Janine should really be hated and/or disliked.

As for the story's background, the future Republic of Gilead appeared as frightening as can be, and readers are forced to reflect on whether it does hold a bit of truth based on our current state of affairs.  Just recently, a tsunami and a very strong earthquake devastated Japan that resulted to a leak from one of their nuclear power plants - the radiation from which was feared to spread to most countries in Asia.  While reading the news, I was gripped by a fearful recollection of this book that was so recently read I am slightly doubting that it is just coincidence.  However, that may be the paranoid in me speaking.  But still, a bit too close to home, right?

Equal parts scary and exciting, this is one book that most readers would probably dread reading but will nevertheless get caught up in, and it would be too late when they find themselves entangled within the context of this story it would leave them sweaty, breathless, nervous, but wanting more.


If you have any questions on this particular rating, please refer to my ratings system here.


All opinions expressed in this book review are my own and not influenced by any party in any way.

Please contact me for questions, comments, and suggestions.  


  1. Heey
    I read The Handmaid's Tale as well. I didn't really like it, just because Atwood's style is so different from what I usually read!! Great review though!!
    Juli @ Universe in Words

  2. I had to read this for A Level English and I hated it. Not my usual sort of book, and it just grossed me out and freaked me out a little bit.

    Great review though, you almost made me want to reconsider it.

  3. great review nina! would like to try this book in the future! :-)

  4. I'm so glad you enjoyed this book! It's one of my all time favorites. I hope to reread it very soon, but I'm going to try some of her other books first.

  5. This was the first Atwood I read and really enjoyed it. If you liked this you might like her other dystopians - Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.

    Nice review!

  6. Great review! I read this book for secondary school English (a long time ago) but I don't think I ever really appreciated it. I've been meaning to pick it back up again, so you've given me the incentive to do so - thanks!

  7. Now THAT is awesome! Loved the review, and the cover is so freaking scary! I wouldn't have thought this was dystopian!

  8. I've heard some recent dystopians compared to this, and it made me consider reading it. I appreciate your review -- although I'm still not sure I want to read it. I may start it and see what happens...

  9. As a Canadian, I'm really embarrassed that I haven't read this yet. It really sounds fantastic as you describe it. I need to get my act together and read it someday!


I just have to tell you, ARGH feeds on awesomeness, so if you can, drop him some awesome here, and I promise to give some awesome back :D

Right now, because of my really busy schedule, I'm cutting back on receiving awards. So until further notice, me and ARGH would not be accepting awards. But thank you for thinking of us, we really appreciate it!